Featured Former CSUF PDS Member...
CSUF Alumni 2015
Incoming USC Dental Student (Class 2020)
May 25, 2016
My name is Esteban Gallegos and I graduated CSUF with my degree in Cellular and Developmental Biology in the Fall of 2015. I am currently awaiting matriculation at USC’s School of Dentistry this coming fall, and could not be more excited, scared, and nervous to start. During my time at CSUF I was primarily involved with the cycling team, which took up a majority of my time where I focused on racing. I was also involved in molecular biology research under Dr. Nikolaidis, and a member of the Pre-Dental Society. I applied to dental school in the summer of 2015 and had a very hard time applying to schools outside of California (who would want to leave this place?) In the end, I ended up only following through with the application for three schools: Western, UOP, and USC; gaining acceptance to both UOP and USC. I guess I was lucky seeing as how I took a gamble and went 2 for 3, getting into two of the best programs in the country.
To be honest, I didn’t know I wanted to pursue dentistry. In fact, I really did not know what I wanted to do when I got accepted to CSUF. I spent a year and a half undeclared before I finally turned my focus to the biological sciences. I always knew I wanted a career in the healthcare field but I never really set my sights on one in particular. Being as such, I knew grades were a top priority for me to ever even consider applying to any sort of professional school. Not only that, but I was never one to want to study night and day and I knew I had to be involved with as many extracurriculars as I could to make myself a more well rounded person. It wasn’t until I was almost done that I actually fell in love with the field of dentistry. However, I probably took the most unconventional path to applying to dental school, so I’m hoping you can learn from my mistakes and shortcomings.
If you’re like me, you’re probably going to spend over 4 years earning your degree. Your GPA is important, not only your overall but even your total science GPA.
Even more important is showing that you can maintain a GPA over the course of your time as an undergraduate.
Most schools love to see above average GPA’s, both total and science, but even more attractive is showing an upward trend in your GPA; it shows that you have overcome some kind of obstacle to make yourself into a better student and ultimately a better applicant.
2. Be involved.
During my time at CSUF, most of the time spend outside of class or studying was spent on my bike. Believe it or not this is what opened my eyes to the extracurriculars offered at CSUF. My second year I joined the cycling team and was heavily involved in racing up to my last semester. Seeing the kind of friendship that grew from that group made me want to branch out and seek out the PDS, and although I wasn’t as involved as I would like, the resources they provided helped solidify my decision to go to dental school
3. Plan ahead.
If you have any intention to apply to dental school, the earlier you make your decision to apply, the better.
AADSAS opens the online applications in the late spring/early summer, so don’t let this catch you off guard like it did for me.
Make a spreadsheet of all the schools you intent on applying to, preferably a semester or two in advanced, listing course requirements, letters of recommendation requirements, etc etc. This will help by give you a timeline of courses that still need to be completed [if you intent on applying before graduation], and to give your professors plenty of time to write you the most thoughtful letter of recommendation possible [trust me, this is key to any application].
4. Take your time and watch those deadlines.
I can’t emphasize enough how important patience is during this time. Applying to dental school is scary, but rushing to finish your application before your top school’s application deadline is even scarier.
The AADSAS application is pretty extensive and time consuming, not to mention redundant, so this is where planning ahead really pays off. Turning in your application early is key for students looking for early acceptances, but it also gives you first dibs with interviews too.
To give you an example of the AADSAS application process; I made my decision to apply for the 2016 cycle in July of 2015, about a month after the applications were open. It took me over a month to finish, taking time to fine tune my personal statement and resume, and I finally turned in my application during the first week of September, but my letters of recommendation weren’t in until October and my application wasn’t considered complete until after that; so four months to complete.
5. Master the DAT.
Please understand the importance of the DAT, as it is an integral piece of your application, often opening the doors for interview offers. I spent close to 3 months studying for the DAT, utilizing resources like kaplan, crack the dat, chad’s videos, etc, etc… Each with their strengths and weaknesses but the challenge was keeping my whits while I studied, and while I took the exam. The DAT is an excruciating exam, used to test your knowledge of the sciences, so being as prepared as you can be is going to be your best friend.
At CSUF I was never one to study for long periods of time, I could usually study the night before and do well. The DAT was difficult because it required a totally different style of studying that I was not used to; doing study blocks of close to 8 hours at a day. So my best advice here is to practice, practice, practice. In reality, no resource will come close to the level of difficulty of the exam but having a strong foundation of how the test is run is a major advantage.
For many years I’ve had a very strong relationship with my dentist and his associates, who have ultimately become my mentors. Having them as a resource definitely helped further solidify my decision for dental school because they gave me a unique look into private practice and the dental field as a whole. Shadowing them has been useful for observing procedures, but it also helped with my application. Many schools require having a minimum of shadowing hours, and unless you’re going to lie about how many hours you’ve done, I totally recommend you start shadowing asap!
7. Have fun and be yourself.
I’m not going to tell you to follow this advice word for word, I'm simply trying to show the process that I've taken on my way to dental school and how you can make the beast that is applying to professional school a little easier to grasp.
Enjoy your time during undergrad, these were for sure the best five and a half years of my life.
Spend as much time with your family and friends as you can, because they’re going to need to understand why you’re going to disappear from everyone during dental school (just kidding).
When you apply and get offered an interview, the best thing you can do is be yourself. the interviewers know your application front and back and will try to get to know you better. Don’t put up a facade and be someone you’re not, they’ll pick up on that.
Lastly, have fun with your personal statement. Chances are your grades are great and your transcript reflects that, so don’t try to tell them about your grades. Instead, write a story about your life and what made you decide to want to go into dentistry. Give them backstory and show them that you’ve done the work to solidify that decision. I know all my fellow PDS members will get into dental school or professional school of their choice, and I wish them the best of luck with their future endeavors.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me!